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NCAA Tournament: LSU Advances to Second Round, Beats St. Bonaventure 76-61

Defense, rebounding carry LSU to opening round win in Bloomington

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-St. Bonaventure at Louisiana State Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

On to the next one.

The LSU men’s basketball team extended their season to Monday, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional with a 76-61 victory over the No. 9 seed St. Bonaventure.

LSU advanced to the Round of 32 in ways we haven’t seen much of this season: dominating the glass and locking down the Bonnies on the defensive end. LSU held St. Bonaventure to 22 first half points and seven made baskets, including 0-10 on threes.

It took some time for either side to get going offensively. The score was 4-2 St. Bonaventure after the under-16 timeout and 4-4 at the under-12. At one point the teams were a combined 3-24 shooting.

But the dry spell was broken when Javonte Smart hit a three, the game’s first, with 10:45 to play in the first half. Smart was then issued an unbelievably weak technical foul call because, as the broadcast said, Smart said “a bad word.” LSU, who now likes to fancy themselves as one of the bad boy programs in the country, turned right back around and hit a second three, this time by Trendon Watford. That three gave LSU a 10-8 lead and the Tigers wouldn’t surrender it for the remainder of the game.

“Our offense was a little bit raggedy, but we guarded and that kept us in the game,” Will Wade said. “And we went on a spurt there at the end of the half to get the nine-point lead and then the 9-0 run to start the second half was huge.”

LSU would lead by as many as 11 points in the first half and would score the first seven points of the second half to give the Tigers a game-high 16 point advantage. LSU got a three on its opening possession of the half from Darius Days, Cameron Thomas converted a three-point play on the ensuing possession, and Watford split a pair of free throws before the Bonnies finally got on the board.

St. Bonaventure would go on a small run in the second half thanks to three straight threes, two by Dominick Welch and one by Jalen Adaway, but the Bonnies would never get any closer than nine points. St. Bonaventure came into Saturday’s game as one of the best defensive teams in the nation but couldn’t keep up on the offensive end once LSU found a rhythm.

Cameron Thomas took over Assembly Hall with a 27-point effort. Thomas lived at the free throw line drawing eight fouls and shooting 13 free throws. Three players had double-doubles: Trendon Watford had 11 points and 11 rebounds, Darius Days had 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Aundre Hyatt had arguably the best game of his collegiate career with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

“Aundre Hyatt played great,” Cam Thomas said. ”Dre was on the glass, defensive glass in the first half. And he hit big shots when we needed him to. I think he hit one three at the top of the key because a big was sitting in the paint and a lot of offensive rebound put-backs. That’s what helped us. We’re going to need Dre to make a deep run in the tournament, so I felt like this was a great starting point for him.”

LSU’s ability to out-rebound the Bonnies, one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, was something nobody could have expected. LSU didn’t just slightly out-rebound St. Bonaventure, it wasn’t even close. LSU had a +19 advantage on the glass and got 14 offensive rebounds compared to St. Bonaventure’s nine.

“Three guys with double-doubles, Aundre Hyatt was phenomenal, four blocks, 13 and 10, seven offensive rebounds,” Wade said. ”I thought he was just tremendous. Trendon and Days did what they do and obviously Cam was phenomenal getting to the free-throw line and attacking and making plays. So it was a total team effort.”

LSU and St. Bonaventure couldn’t be more different stylistically but the Tigers were able to beat the Bonnies at their own game: defense and rebounding. And if LSU has finally added that dimension to their game, they can beat anybody.

Up next for LSU is a Round of 32 date with the Michigan Wolverines, the No. 1 seed in the East Region. The game is set for Monday but a tipoff time and what channel will carry the game remains to be seen.